Friday, April 30, 2010

The Color of Correction

My Facebook friends have heard this already, but I'd like to share a rather amusing incident from my week.

I am a creature of habit. Not obsessively so, to be sure, but having a routine helps me to move through the day with minimal distraction. Granted, I can be particular: there are certain protein bars I prefer to eat for a mid-morning snack, certain brands of coffee I prefer to brew, and even certain types of pens that I like to use. Truth be told, I can be somewhat crazy about my pens: once I find one that works, I cling to it and seize any opportunity to acquire more of the same brand. There's just some sense of security I derive from knowing that I have 4-8 of my favorite pens in my bag, just in case the one I'm currently using fails to write.

This preference extends even to the pens I use to mark papers. Here I'm very particular. These days, I'm rather fond of the Pilot-brand Precise V5 RT Red Pen series. It's a clicky pen, so no cap to lose. Out of its handsome red-and-silver body springs forth a vibrant, yet thin, line of arterial-red ink. As an instrument of correction, it is as lovely as it is lethal.

Apparently, the virtues of the men of which I sing seem also to bother mightily some students and, consequently, their parents. I know this because this week a mother sent me a lovely gift: a small box will an assortment of colored pens. Ironically, she sent me what happens to be my favorite hand-writing pens: the Pilot EasyTouch Fine series of pens. Turquoise. Blue. Black. Purple. A little note accompanied the gift, reading: "Dear Mr. Duns. Red can be hard on the boys' eyes and hurt their feelings, so I thought you might try correcting papers in other colors."

Sure enough, as I looked again, I realized that my benefactor had bought the variety pack of Pilot EasyTouch  pens and, when placing them in the box, removed the red one from the series! (Note: this is no great loss. As nice as they are for writing notes, this pen series is not great for correcting because it is too thin and doesn't drive home the message of error well enough)

Moved by this gracious offering, I knew that I had to express my gratitude. I immediately returned to the Jesuit Residence, found some nice stationery, and set about writing her a thank you card...using none other than my trusty Pilot Precise V5 RT Red Pen.

Jesuit passive-aggressive behavior at its finest, I reckon.

Monday, April 26, 2010

I see how it is...

As I may have shared once before, when I was a little boy I had a Paddington Bear, whom I loved dearly. I liked his foppish yellow hat (stuffed with newspaper to help maintain its shape) and his blue coat. I loved that he had been a gift from my Grandma Duns. I took him to bed with me each night, along with my blanket, for comfort and security.

That is, at least, until my brother took Paddington from his secure abode on my bed and brought him into the kitchen and put him on the (hot) stove. In a burst of smoke and melting synthetic fibers, I was left with a singed and smoky toy...and a bear-sized hole in my heart.

For many, many years I lived with this gaping wound, a deep scar that I never managed to get over. It was until I was 24 - just before I entered the Jesuits - that my parents took steps at putting this aright by buying me a new Paddington bear. This Paddington came with me to the novitiate and also lived in New York for three years (he's a cosmopolitan sort, enjoying the Bronx and Manhattan far more than the Deepest, Darkest regions of Peru).

This summer, as I moved my worldly possessions from New York to Cleveland to Detroit, Paddington was lost. Again, old wounds were opened and I think that most, if not all, of my struggles stem from not having Paddington around. I asked my family members numerous times if they'd seen him and it seemed as though none had...Paddington, it appeared, had taken a train back to his native Peru without saying goodbye.

So last night, after a few moments of talking on Skype with my mother and niece, I slipped in a query about Paddington's whereabouts. Wouldn't you know, they have been concealing him in my father's closet all of this time. In short, I caught them in their devious plot to destroy me by keeping me from my old friend. So I've now secured a promise from my mother that she'll bring Paddington up to me next month so that we can be reunited. This is the second overt attempt by my family to destroy me - first 23 years ago by incinerating my bear, more recently by taking my new bear hostage.

I'm sure I'll get over it.

This promises to be yet another really busy week. Fortunately, I don't have to travel anywhere next weekend so I'll have time, I hope, to keep the blog updated.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Crawling Toward the Weekend

If I thought last week was challenging, I'm finding this week to be exponentially more difficult. It's been one thing after another: prepping classes, planning a pep rally, enormous amounts of work for the Archbishop's visit to our school, and preparation for another weekend of travel. Two or three times I thought that I should write something but, then, a new crisis would erupt and I'd find myself mired in paperwork!

It's hard having a big-boy job. I miss my student days!

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Lull

After last week's flurry of posts, the business of teaching has rendered me somewhat silent. I'm generally in the building by 7:10 each morning and, of late, I've not been home until 5:00 pm which is just in time for Mass and dinner. After that there's always something: lesson planning, lacrosse games, baseball games, planning a rally, sending out a TON of emails, working with Jesuit candidates, etc..

Oh, for the halcyon days of Spring Break! While some prefer to go to Tijuana or Florida, I'd prefer to be able to blog while I drink my coffee.


I'm heading off to Denver tonight to play for my 10th straight "Feile Denver." In 2001, Anne Hall invited me to Denver while I was a junior in college. I've come out to play at this feis ever since and, in the process, found in Anne one of my closest friends. Even though I don't look forward to traveling today - truth be told, I just want to sleep! - I'm very excited to be with friends in Denver...even if it is only for a night.

I'll try to post again soon but know that next week is even busier than this one: we have the Archbishop coming for an all-school celebration of the Eucharist on Thursday and the rally I'm helping to plan is on Friday. I also need to do things like pray, go to mass, plan for classes, and grade papers/tests. As tired as I've been each night, I can say this: it's worth it. I've never been happier in my Jesuit life and I still look forward to going to work each day. That's grace enough.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

It's Been a Long Time

In what was my first totally free Friday night in a very long time, I seized an opportunity to do something I haven't done in many years: I went to an Irish music session. A seisiun, or session, is a gathering of Irish musicians who gather to play music together. I learned of this session from a great little website called SessioNite.com, a site run by a great whistle player named Gary Farmer. So after a day of blogging and recording, I packed up my tin whistles, jumped into the car, and headed off to the Ancient Order of Hibernians Hall in Detroit.

The irony of me being nervous to go to a session is not lost on me. My YouTube videos have been watched nearly 2.5 million times and I, daily, receive emails asking for help in learning to play Irish music. Just yesterday I read a note from somebody who thanked me for helping her to learn enough tunes to allow her to play in a local beginners' session in her hometown. Rather than being glad for her, I felt horribly discouraged! "How is it that I can help others play in sessions when I don't go to them myself?" I felt like a huge hypocrite: I tell people to claim their voice in the Irish tradition and, ashamedly, I don't contribute my own except through my teaching videos.

As a musician, I have always been very self-conscious: as much as I love to play, I hate it when other musicians play tunes that I've never even heard before. Sessions can often move so quickly that by the time I lock into a new tune and start to get it figured out, the group has moved onto another tune. By the time I start to get that one under my belt, I've forgotten the first one! Hence do I often feel like a loser, someone who is not as good as the others, and I worry that they're judging me. It's easier and more comfortable for me to record what I want to record, to teach what I want to teach, because I am in control.

In other words, I realized as I drove last night to how great an extent fear has kept me from doing something I really do love doing: playing music with others.

We played tunes last night that I hadn't heard or played in over a decade. Memories of my teenage years flooded back: the excitement of learning new tunes and going to sessions and performance and competitions. Last night, I got back into touch with a sense of communion and camaraderie that I had forgotten, or neglected, or had sought elsewhere. I realized, much to my delight, that the same joy I find it being a member of the Body of Christ - a rag-tag group trying to bring their voices and lives together to praise God - is the same joy I find in playing Irish music with others.

I am grateful that I had a chance to play music with true Irish musicians. Last night, I played with women and men who really loved Irish music and shared that love with me, inviting me to enter into something I had forgotten and to reawaken a long-dormant passion. They taught the teacher and helped me to realize just how much I still have to learn and how much of a desire I have to learn it. In a word, I have been inspired.

In these days of Church crisis, I am grateful for a lesson I learned last night. I am an Irish musician for the same reason I am a Catholic: because in and through a community of musicians and Catholics, I have found a joyful voice to express myself using my (very) limited abilities. My weak-but-willing self has been formed by others, challenged by others, sustained by others, and loved into greater wholeness by others. Sometimes, I fear, I forget how important community really is and write and think as though it's just me out there. It takes an evening of musical grace to recall that it's not all about me and just how much I owe to the community that has helped me to be the man, the musician, and the Christian I am today.

I am not a musician in spite of other musicians but only because they shared themselves with me. I have surpassed some of my teachers and I am proud to say that I have been surpassed by those I have taught. It's not about being the best, it's about being who I am, who I am called to be: one who is called and willing to contribute his voice, his life, to make more beautiful the music he loves. Each one of us is called to do the same. There is no perfect session - for there are always bum notes - just as there is no perfect institution. But sustained by a love of the music, of the tradition, we can joyfully offer our voices and lives as we come together in music and in prayer.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Remaining in the Church?

A comment made on my earlier post includes the following: "I haven't given up on God. But the Church? Well, that's another matter entirely. And I'm not sure if I am going to stay or go." 

It would be improper and unhelpful for me to offer an intellectual reason to remain in the Catholic Church, especially in light of the failure of so many of its leaders to leader, the apparent inability of so many of its pastors to pastor.

In my prayer this morning, I imagined a group never really mentioned in the Scriptures: the non-disciple friends of Jesus. By this I mean those women and men with whom Peter might have gathered on the odd weekend to spend time with, to relax with, to 'get away' from the other followers of Jesus. Peter may have introduced some of these people to Jesus and some of them may even have considered themselves followers.

Imagine the shock and horror when Peter told his friends just how it was that he managed to escape being pegged as one of Jesus' followers by the Pharisees. "Well, I denied him three times." Now the Scriptures tell us that Jesus predicted that Peter would deny him three times before the cock crowd and, when he realized that Jesus was right, Peter ran off and felt pretty awful about what he had done. We believe this and we know something of what happened to Peter following the Resurrection. But what do you think his friends thought of him, in those hours immediately following his denial of Jesus?

They probably thought he was a huge jerk, a pathetic loser, a charlatan, a fair-weather friend, a coward. They'd have looked at Peter, "The Rock," with suspicion and disgust: just what kind of friend is this who professes to be such a loyal disciple but then turns and hightails it when his own neck is on the line? Peter, the first Pope, probably appeared to his friends in those hours as a major dope: a traitor, hypocrite who failed the one whom he loved and had sworn to follow.

I mention this because the Church's failure of leadership is nothing new. From the very beginning, we have been shepherded by sinful, fallible men (in this case, using the gender-exclusive noun is appropriate). Our history is not one of pristine purity but, rather, of a sinful Church that has tried, and failed, and tried again to be the people God has called us to be.

Remember: Jesus didn't renege on his friendship after Peter's failure. Jesus knew that Peter was a terrible failure, an unworthy man. But he did not cease loving him: he asked this spectacular traitor to do the unthinkable. Jesus asked Peter to feed his sheep.

For those of us in the Catholic Church, we are still fed by the successor of Saint Peter, the coward chosen by Jesus to be our shepherd, our pastor. Nowhere does Jesus say that any of our leaders will be sin-proof, hermetically sealed off from the ravages of sin and corruption: he promises only that the gates of hell would not prevail over the Church (Matthew 16:18). The hands that raise the bread and wine and the lips that consecrate them as the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ descend from the hands and lips of Jesus' friend who betrayed him and denied him.

I remain in the Catholic Church because it is a Church whose bedrock and foundation is a spectacular sinner. Peter betrayed Christ phenomenally: he could not remain awake with him in prayer, he remained silent as he was charged, and he denied him when questioned. Yet Christ still called these cowardly sinners to go out into the world to preach the Gospel; he gave them his own Spirit and promised to be with them until the end of days. I trust in this promise and trust that I have a home with a history of terrible failures.

I cannot abandon the Church because, in my heart, I know that it is where I belong. I honestly believe that if can gather together we can, sinners all, move forward as a stronger and more committed Body. I believe this because I still have hope. Hope that Christ's strength with galvanize his even his weakest and most flawed followers to live courageously for the Gospel. Hope that Christ's Spirit will embolden his shepherds to put people's lives over institutional prestige. Hope that Christ's love will enable those who have been so grievously wounded forgive - not forget - so that they find greater freedom from the bondage of their abusers. I believe we can do this, together, because of the Resurrection: God is stronger than death, love is stronger than hate, forgiveness is stronger resentment.

Our Church is not perfect. Yet even down to its sinful foundation, it has been solidified always by Christ's Spirit...a Spirit so many of our leaders and shepherds - and, dare I say, we ourselves! - have rebuffed time and again. In a sense, I am grateful that the Church is imperfect, for I know myself to be  sinful man who feels, nevertheless, called to serve Christ's people. If the Church were perfect, I would have no home here. I don't know that many of us would. I know that I need the Church in order to be the Christian that I am called to be: a servant of bodies, a minister of sacraments, a healer of souls. I am not arrogant to say that the Church needs me. But I am confident that the Church every man, woman, and child who are willing to open their hearts to its imperfections and love it, not because she is perfect, but because the Church is called by Christ himself. Even when she limps, stumbles, or falls we can have the confidence that Christ is there, guiding her...guiding all of us as the People of God...on our journey into the Kingdom.

How's Your GPS? (God Positioning System)

Last June I made, perhaps, the single-most important purchase of my adult life: a global positional system for my car. As I made preparations to move to Detroit where I would have ready access to a car, it occurred to me that it'd be convenient and probably safer to use a GPS to navigate the city instead of relying on printed-out directions.

I have come to rely completely on TomTom (the brand I bought and the name I have given to my GPS). There is something reassuring, if not perplexing, that there are satellites thousands of miles above my head that are able to keep track of my car as I travel. I especially appreciate TomTom's pastoral concern for me and my driving: it tells me when I'm speeding, it gently reminds me to "turn around when possible" if I've overshot my destination, and if I miss a turn or misunderstand one of the cues, TomTom recalculates my route in order to get me to my destination safely: no fumbling about with directions, no second-guessing whether I heard oral directions properly, no fretting over being directed in an unfamiliar way. I simply trust that TomTom has a better eye-line on the situation and will lead me, safely and quickly, to my destination.

As an analogy, it seems to me that each of us has an internal GPS, or a "God Positioning System." Instead of being mounted on the dash of the car, our internal GPS is grafted into the  wall of our heart. It is, furthermore, more user-friendly than TomTom: where TomTom can only go where I have directed it to go, my GPS, when I listen to it, leads me along the path that God desires for me to follow.

Here is the key word for coming to understand our GPS: desire. When we are looking for the path or route we are to follow in our lives, we don't need to go to Mapquest or to search outside of ourselves for what God wants. Indeed, we need only peer into and listen to our hearts in order  to learn just what it is we most deeply and authentically desire. It through our desires, the dynamism of the human heart, that God speaks to us and invites us to follow.

These are trying times to be a Catholic. Each day we read more accounts of horrific abuse and we are now reaping the harvest of institutional secrecy. Many women and men now wonder, with their trust shaken, whether they can remain Catholic. I know of young men who are now questioning whether they can, in conscience, commit themselves to following Jesus as priests and religious because of the failings of the Church. Many of us feel as though we've been led into a slum, the seediest and darkest area of some city, and abandoned. Now we stand bewildered, wondering how we got here and whether we can trust the one who led us. We are, by rights, scared and confused and angry.

As individuals and as a Church, we are being called into a terrible mess. Nevertheless, despite my unease and shock at this situation, my heart has not wavered in my sense of being called to serve God's people as a religious. You can be damned sure that this has meant a lot of praying, a lot of tapping at the internal GPS, and a lot of saying, "Okay Lord, if this is where you're leading."

To my Catholic sisters and brothers, I know that this is a really difficult time. It is one thing to be discouraged, but another to give up hope. We cannot and must not give up hope. As we are guided into the heart of corruption, let us not forget that God is the guiding force behind this and that, if we trust, we will arrive at our destination. To be sure, we will not be unscathed. We are learning the painful lesson of humility, the importance of transparency, and the corrosive effects of power, sex, money, and greed. The sins of the past have been committed and we, as Church, must account for them. The sin of the future will be if we fail to learn from the past.

I know that people are shaken and hurt. Again, I beseech you not to abandon hope. Just as a car needs fuel, so do we. As frustrated and angry as we are, now more than ever do we need to find the fuel that is the Eucharist, the Bread of Life, the One who was himself betrayed by those he trusted. In the Eucharist we receive the man who, fleeing to the Garden of Gethsemane, cried into his own GPS: "My Father! If it is possible, let this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." In the darkest slum of his life, seemingly abandoned and alone, Jesus turned did not abandon hope. He listened to his heart's deepest desire - to do the will of the Father - and he gave himself over to this route. It is a route that led straight to the Cross. It is a route offered in hope amidst fear. It is a hope that opens us to the unimaginable power of the Resurrection.

I ask again, "How is your GPS?" If you are feeling lost and confused, angry and hurt, know this: you are not alone. We see the model of this confusion in the person of Jesus Christ who, even when the tsunami of sin threatened to crush all hope, opened his heart, his GPS, to the directions of his Abba and followed. This is not an easy path, but following God in the midst of chaos is exactly what we are called to do at this time. Nourished by the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of the one who has walked through the sinful slum of humanity, let us consult our GPS and move forward. Let us atone for the crimes of the past and resolve never again to allow such atrocities again. Let us reclaim our desires to be companions of Jesus who are a people inspired by the Gospel to be walk, skip, and run along the road to God's Kingdom.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

A Jesuit's Introduction to the Tin Whistle: The Wild Rover

The Fordham tin whistle series, as I look back on it, ended on March 31, 2008. After two years, I thought it time to breathe new life into the endeavor so I'm starting a new series: "A Jesuit's Introduction to the Whistle."

Here's the first posting, cross-posted with my other blog.

As promised, I'm uploading my first new teaching video. Below I've typed out the letters. Please be aware: Bold Face Notes mean that you blow harder. Also, I'll indicate at the beginning whether the C is played with two fingers (0xx000 or C-natural) or if it is played with all fingers off (000 000 or C-sharp). All of the F notes, unless otherwise indicated, are F-Sharp.





The Wild Rover (C's in this tune are C-natural, so 0xx 000)


G-G-A-G-E-D


B-B-A-B-C


BCD B-D-C-A-F-D-B-A-G


G-G-A-G-E-D


B-B-A-B-C


B-C-D-B-D-C-A-F-D-B-A-G


Chorus


F-G-A A F-D


B-B-B-A-B-C


BCD B-G-F-E


E-D-B-A-G

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Another Instance of What I was Talking About

In general, I rather like Maureen Dowd's columns in the New York Times. This morning, however, I was saddened to see Maureen column making the same sort of leap I decried in my previous post.

Maureen's brother writes:
Vatican II liberalized rules but left the most outdated one: celibacy. That vow was put in place originally because the church did not want heirs making claims on money and land. But it ended up shrinking the priest pool and producing the wrong kind of candidates — drawing men confused about their sexuality who put our children in harm’s way.
There is the common, if not wholly accurate, belief that clerical celibacy was instituted solely in order to preserve the economic status of the Church. Maureen, by quoting her brotherappears to buy into this this. This is not to say that nepotism was not one area that reformers intended to address with the institution of clerical celibacy. Nevertheless, I don't believe that it is the entirety of the story. John O'Malley, writing in America Magazine, provides a brief-yet-interesting account of the development of clerical celibacy.

O'Malley makes the point that part of the Gregorian reform (named after Pope Gregory VII 1073-85) included an effort to bring "the behavior of the clergy into line with the reformers' interpretation of the ancient canons. To that extent it was a holiness movement." O'Malley continues:

In the wake of the Gregorians’ efforts, the law of celibacy began to emerge in much the form we know it today, that is, as a prohibition against ordaining married men and entering the married state after ordination. The very first of “the Gregorians,” Pope Leo IX (1049-54), for instance, presided along with the German emperor at a synod in Mainz in 1049 that condemned “the evil of clerical marriage”—nefanda sacerdotum coniugia. If this prohibition is to be understood as somehow qualified for those already married before ordination, the limitation is not clear from the text itself.

The focus of the reformers was, however, more in accord with the older tradition in that they insisted on continence—absolutely. Along with other sanctions for incontinent priests, they forbade the laity to assist at the Masses of priests they knew were not conforming to the requirement. They found a good argument for their ideals in Canon 3 of the Council of Nicea (325), which forbade clerics in major orders to have any women in their households except their mothers, sisters or aunts. They interpreted the canon, incorrectly, as a prohibition of marriage.
Now, my point is not whether or not clerical celibacy is a good or a bad thing. Rather, I want to point out that there is another available reading of history, one that is more charitable to the practice of celibacy, yet one seldom mentioned in popular discussion.

One may certainly contest O'Malley's scholarship and reading of history. What one cannot do, however, is claim that there is one simple reason that the Church has the practice of clerical celibacy. Like all issues, it is one that admits of no simple interpretation. O'Malley's contribution may be nothing more than to interrupt the oft-repeated bromide that mandatory celibacy was instituted solely to preserve the Church's money. A more nuanced, and perhaps more historically accurate, examination of history may show the issue to be more complicated.

The second point I should like to make involves Dowd's sweeping judgment on the "wrong kind of candidates." Because she does not qualify her statement, I am forced to assume that she means that even today the pool is limited to men "confused about their sexuality who put our children in harm's way."

First, there is no correlation to instances of sexual abuse with mandatory celibacy. The vast majority of celibate clergy have not molested a child and find the idea horrifying. This is not because they are afraid to molest children but, rather, have an integrated psycho-sexual identity (a healthy sense of their sexuality) and know that molesting children is evil. Pedophilia is a pathology, a deeply-rooted sickness...it is not a matter of sexual confusion. Were pedophilia limited to the celibate Roman Catholic clergy, I would be forced to agree with Maureen. Yet we know from news accounts that this is a problem that goes far beyond the walls of any one church or institution.

Pedophilia is a scandal at anyone's hands: priest, rabbi, minister, teacher, father, family member, doctor, nurse, or coach. The clergy sex abuse scandal is egregious because of institutional complicity, cover-up, and often a lack of pastoral concern for victims. The scandal goes beyond simply that it took place (an atrocity in any instance) and finds amplification in the failure to act always in the best interest of the people.

[I want to note that I say all of this with one caveat: act using the best information and advice available at the time. One thing I see frequently, at least of late, is an anachronistic adjudication of the past based on the standards and information we have today, information that was unavailable 30-60 years ago.]

Sexual abuse is not a problem limited to the Catholic Church. It is, therefore, irresponsible to try to make a 1-to-1 connection between celibacy and acts of abuse. Pedophilia is a scandal wherever it takes place. Adding to the scandal in the case of the Catholic Church, making it cut so much deeper, is that not only were the lives and bodies of innocent victims traumatized but also that the trust placed in the Church has been compromised.

Second, if you read my earlier post today, you will recall that I find a tremendous irony in the silencing of "the Other." In Dowd's piece, "the Other" would be the "men confused about their sexuality who put our children in harm’s way." So in an Op/Ed piece where she is claiming to make her voice heard, a voice she feels that the hierarchy ignores (sadly, she's right on this point), she effectively silences anyone within the ranks of clergy! In her column, by painting "the Other" with the brush of confused sexual identity, she has foreclosed any chance for conversation on the issue. "The Other" is now silenced; she who would see herself as the oppressed can use another to become the oppressor. The monologue continues but with a different voice.

How so? Her sweeping judgment on the current pool of Catholic clergy relegates any member of that pool (myself included) into a suspect group. My vantage point, it would seem, is tainted by the scandal of sex abuse because, by her reckoning, I am to be lumped into a large group of sexually confused individuals. The clergy that will not listen to Maureen, thus painted by her column's brush, finds itself rendered silent because "sexually confused."

As frequent readers know, I bare much of my soul on these virtual pages. As you can see from yesterday, I even posted pictures of me with my niece and nephew: the two children in the world who have helped me to realize how much the heart can grow with love. I am, consequently, horrified and offended that I should be so facilely implicated in a scandal that involves horrific violence against children - like my niece Emma and nephew Quinn - by portraying me, as a member of the clergy, as "putting children in harm's way." This is a scathing and deeply offensive claim...but who can listen to someone who has been entered the clergy as one taken from a pool of "the wrong kind of candidates"?

The silenced uses the words of her brother to become the silencer?

The authors of the article in Der Spiegel and even Maureen Dowd (drawing on her brother) would do well to think upon their own journalistic integrity. Fact-checking, careful scholarship, adequate time-lines: each would aide tremendously in making their cases. By no means am I denying that there is a problem. I am, however, decrying the slash-and-burn, label-and-dismiss, facile arguments and appeals to emotion that seem to be so influential today.


Der Speigel: Is it Really?

I read this morning an article entitled "Helpless in the Vatican: The Failed Papacy of Benedict XVI" published in Der Spiegel, the German weekly magazine.

As I wrote on Holy Saturday, I have been terribly discouraged by the waves of sex abuse that continue to buffet the Catholic Church. I'm disappointed in the actions of bishops and the culture of secrecy that allowed horrendous abuse of the innocent to take place. I grieve that the Church has lost the trust of many and is now looked at with scorn and suspicion. I am angry at many bishops who, in my estimation, have too often been spectacular failures, preferring the role of "institutional administrator" rather than commission to follow Christ as shepherds of souls, stewards of grace, and heralds of faith.

Yet, my frustration with the failures of the hierarchy of the institutional Church is only compounded by my frustration with the facile and sloppy reporting of the media. The authors of the Der Spiegel piece write:

There is also no lack of recommendations relating to the future of the Church, both from believers and non-believers. Suddenly everyone knows what the Church has done wrong in decades gone by: the celibacy and the exclusion of women from the priesthood; the hierarchy of old men and the persecution of any efforts to liberalize the theology; the blind condemnation of contraception and birth control in the poor regions of the world; the eternal lack of understanding of homosexuality; the mistrust of technology and modern culture; and the constant needling and provocation aimed at the Protestant churches, Judaism and Islam. (Emphases are mine)
Der Spiegel, in German, means "the mirror" in English. One would suppose, then, by the name of the publication that the goal is to reflect accurately the situation being reported. Hence the title of my post "Is it Really?": is this really an accurate reflection of the state of the Catholic Church?

I have two points to make in light of the above paragraph.

First, there is no denying that we are enmeshed in a sexual abuse crisis. Nor can anyone deny that each of the aforementioned issues is an issue. But it does seem to me a non sequitur that the sexual abuse crisis is immediately related to any or all of the listed issues. There is no shortage of sex abuse in our public schools, yet we don't often try to tie in "celibacy" as one of the contributing factors to the abuse. In other words, I don't exactly follow the train of logic that admits of a problem with sex abuse (fact) and then goes on to tie it into a host of other issues. While these are undeniably issues the Church has to face, I would eschew linking sex-abuse with the other issues in a facile manner.

What Der Spiegel does, as many media outlets, is to use the emotional gravity of the sex abuse case to then indict other, potentially non-related, areas of Church life and practice. I do not think this either fair or the fruit of careful thinking. As I've said, I'm not denying that they are issues. But I don't know that one can make a leap from "sex abuse" to "all other issues" as neatly or easily as the authors of this article seem to have done.

Point number two.

One of the great buzzwords in philosophy and theology is "the Other." We must always respect and give due deference to "the Other." The genealogy of "the Other" is beyond the reach of this post, but its influence is hard to ignore.

There is sort of an unwritten rule that we should be cautious in making judgments. "Who are you to judge?" is a common refrain. Judgment is avoided because there is a healthy impulse to listen to all voices, to make sure that all sides are represented, that the stories and experiences of all parties have been given a fair hearing.

Oddly, however, the rule of giving "the Other" a chance to speak is jettisoned when it comes to the Catholic Church. Above, the authors gave a (common) litany of what is wrong with the Catholic Church. Not only is there no effort to say what is right with the Church (hospitals to care for the ailing, schools to educate the young, social service organizations and individual parishes that provide the corporal and spiritual works of mercy) but there is no effort made to give a fair hearing to the Church's position. "The Other" in this case is silenced and presumed wrong.

I'm not to be heard as saying that the Church is right on all of these issues. I should like to be heard as saying that there is an ironic twist that in a culture where we decry judgment on "the Other" we see judgment with impunity, as though it is simply a matter of course that the Church is wrong on so many issues! The final line of the quoted paragraph marks a performance of this irony: the authors judge the Church for its supposed 'needling' of other traditions...a judgment is made on the judge by the....judge?

My difficulty with the article is that it rests on emotional and rhetorical flourish than it does on careful investigation. The force of the article comes from its ability to tap in at our natural (and expected) abhorrence of clergy sex abuse and then uses that to color the portrait of the Church and the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. Furthermore, the piece performs the irony of our culture: we who profess to be non-judgmental of "the Other" are indeed quick to judge "the Other" when it is convenient for us to do so.

As I have said, I am not denying that there are tremendous problems and issues to be addressed. But what we need is to find a sense of balance in order to make prudent and well-discerned decisions about how we are to move forward.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Three Easter Pictures




I just wanted to post three pictures taken with me and my nephew (Quinn) and niece (Emma).


Saturday, April 03, 2010

Holy Saturday

Over the last few weeks, the drama of sex-abuse has played itself out on a national stage. The New York Times has carried a series of articles raising trenchant questions concerning, "Who knew what and when was it known?" concerning abuse allegations that date back decades.

I am in no position to offer commentary on these. Were I to try to defend or contextualize the actions of the bishops and the Holy Father, I would be accused of being a "party-man" and failing to recognize the grief of the abused. Were I to join the chorus of voices calling for the Pope to resign or those decrying the entirety of the Catholic Church, I would be accused by others of being a traitor.

So on this Holy Saturday, I find myself silenced. It's profoundly difficult to speak to the complexity of the issue of sexual abuse...sort of like trying to speak to a person following the death of the beloved: you want to say something, you want to offer a word, but deep down you know it's better to be silent. It's hard, too, to speak of the horrifying trauma that has scarred the lives of so many innocent children: it feels as though even speaking of it would make things worse, would open up even deeper levels of pain and sorrow.

My prayer this morning finds its center in this condition: silence. The numb, aching silence that ensues after a terrible loss. The silence of shock and dismay, of agony and confusion. The confidence of Palm Sunday or the vision of a Church Triumphant has been undermined and replaced with grief. Today, it seems like our once confident Church in whom we prayed and lived our lives has been arrested, humiliated, tried, and hangs now on the Cross.

Do not think for a moment that I draw too close a parallel to Jesus. I am no fool: Jesus was the spotless Lamb, the One executed because he dared to love as God loves and to preach a Kingdom founded upon that prodigal love. The same cannot always be said for His Church.

For some, the public trial and crucifixion of the Church is a long time in coming. It is seen as the death blow that will finally end nearly two thousand years of oppression and corruption, the final scene before the once grand dame of religion retires forever, consigned to history as a curious vestige of a benighted past.

For others, this is yet another instance of a conspiracy against the Church.
Interestingly, I do not hear many denying that mistakes have been made and that the sins of the past must be atoned for. And yet, the defensiveness of their position makes many wonder if they recognize fully the scope and extent of the damage that has been done. Recourse to "concentric attacks against the Pope" only galvanize those who believe that the hierarchy pays only lip-service to the problem of abuse and secrecy and fails to realize the extent to which trust has been violated.

So where are we on this Holy Saturday? As Catholics watch their Church tried publicly, we don't have the luxury of knowing that it is an innocent victim being executed by satanic forces. So we must wait in prayerful silence. Catholics should pray that this trial be a time of healing, a time for bringing to light past indiscretions so that we can get on with our mission to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ...Good News the world, quite plainly, needs desperately to hear. We ought to pray that a spirit of honesty and truth prevail so that we can begin again to restore the trust that has been lost among so many.

Less than fifty years ago, the great Dominican philosopher Father Herbert McCabe famously quipped that the Church is "quite plainly corrupt." This was not, however, any reason for one to leave the Church. Sometimes it seems that the Church has been more concerned with the maintenance of its institution rather than its mission: to continue Jesus Christ's earthly ministry, preaching the Kingdom by Word and by Deed. Without question, the Church's Mission has often been compromised its sinful membership and the result, as we have seen, is a culture of secrecy that has impeded, rather than impelled, our ability to share the Gospel with the world.

Today is, for me, a day of silent prayer. I pray that God's creative will be done in and through sinful humanity, a humanity that still has much to learn from the Catholic Church. I pray for my Church in whom I have grown and to whom I have offered myself that she might grow through this trial. I pray for those who have been victimized by the Church's members, that they might find healing and peace. I pray for a conversion of hearts and minds, a healing of souls, and a spirit of forgiveness.

The Holy Saturday we dwell in today is going to last far longer than 24-hours. It will take years for us to grow through this scandal and become ever more the People of God. Nevertheless, our hope and our assurance rest in Easter, a hope that will be nourished by the Eucharist and the foretaste of God's Kingdom we receive each time we gather around the Lamb's Table. Our confidence must be in the Resurrection, one that we profess each week, but one we must now look toward with the red, grieving eyes of a people who have watched the death of their beloved.
Emboldened by the Resurrection of the Innocent One, we wait in prayerful and expectant silence for the Rising of the Church that she might be a beacon of hope, dwelling place for all who seek rest, and a witness to a broken world of the Kingdom of God.

On Dissertating

An old acquaintance, seeing my blog post from yesterday, emailed me this morning. He, too, is enrolled in a doctoral program and he was sho...